What is in a word? And How should it be Handled?

The Apostle Paul in writing to his young protégé Timothy, advised him to be concerned with “rightly dividing the word of truth.”You’d recognise that phrase as coming from 2 Timothy 2:15 in the New, and the (old) King James translations of the Bible. I’d venture a guess that modern day readers, without the knowledge of the Apostle Paul’s tent-making occupation, would find it difficult to understand “rightly dividing.” As a tent maker, Paul would be concerned with cutting the hard-to-get materials he had in the right way so as to minimise wastage and to make good tents. So, “rightly dividing” is therefore a phrase that came from his tent making trade and it meant “cutting a straight line”, “dissect correctly” (Strong’s) and to “proceed on straight paths, hold a straight course, equivalent to doing right” (Thayer). So the modern translations which translate these as, “who correctly handles” (NIV) or “rightly handling” (ESV) are closer, in my opinion, to Paul’s intended meaning. His intent was to encourage Timothy to, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” To “be diligent” of course takes loads of time! Uninterrupted, quiet, away from other, often pressing, distractions kind of time – this of course is a modern luxury. To “be diligent” however, is where I seek – and need – spend most of my time no matter how difficult. It is especially so, when I share fully the sentiment expressed by J. H. Jowett, a “prince” of preachers. Jowett says, “If the pulpit is to be occupied by men with a message worth sharing, we must have time to prepare it.” Jowett’s conviction, which I fully subscribe to, is that no sermon is ready for preaching, not ready for writing out, until we can express its theme in a short pregnant sentence as clear as crystal. I find the getting of that sentence is the hardest, the most exacting, and the most fruitful labour in my study. First, I wait on the Lord for His point – what is His message? What does He want me to get across? Then I have to craft that sentence! Otherwise the thoughts for the 3000-plus word sermon will not flow. This is where I spent my time. Jowett recommends to “dismiss every word that is vague, ragged, ambiguous, to think oneself through to a form of words which defines the theme with scrupulous exactness.” The sermon ought not to be preached or even written, until that sentence has emerged, clear and lucid as a cloudless moon. That is how the “word of truth” ought to be rightly handled.

Pastor Robert Chew